A scorecard does not always show a bowler’s efforts, It does not show how much the bowler troubles the batsmen. It does not show the little moment of magic created by the bowler. Most importantly the scorecard does not always show the importance of those small economical spells which do not account for any wicket. In other words, the scorecard often shows a completely different picture from what has actually happened on the field.
Similarly, Ravichandran Ashwin’s bowling figures of 9-43-1 in Sunday’s clash against South Africa might not sound as impressive as that of a bowler taking a fifer when glancing at the scorecard. However, little does the scorecard tell anything about the change his not-so-statistically-impressive spell brought about in the match. Not being a part of the playing eleven in the initial part of the tournament and then performing splendidly on making a comeback, that too coming into a crucial encounter, is the sign of a champion player. And Ashwin did exactly that as he brought some sense of control in the Indian bowling attack, which otherwise seemed like a ship sailing without a compass in their loss to Sri Lanka in the previous match.
Till Sunday’s clash against South Africa, Virat Kohli had refrained from playing Ashwin in the previous two matches. India didn’t feel his absence when they outplayed a hapless Pakistan in their first group encounter. However, Ashwin’s absence hurt India badly against Sri Lanka as none of the bowlers were able to restrict the rampaging Lankans. There is no denying the fact that it was a good batting deck and the bowlers did their best. However, one doesn’t rely on cricket skills alone to setup a win. It seemed like India was lacking a clever mind — a mind that could read each and every move of the batsmen and most importantly a mind that could outplay the opposition. Kohli and the Indian team management realised that such a mind, a guiding force and the ability to turn a game on its head was in the possession of Ashwin. It was only imperative for India’s star bowler to get picked in the team in place of Umesh Yadav in their do-or-die encounter against South Africa.
The Indian pacers started off well against the South African opening duo of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock. They kept things tidy bowling tight line and lengths to the duo in spite of the fact that there was almost no swing on offer. Moreover, they couldn’t fetch even one wicket as South Africa kept jogging at an economy rate of slightly over 3 for the first 10 overs. The ball had stopped doing even the slightest of movements in the air that it was doing during the first few overs. The duo of Amla and de Kock were also looking to break free and it was right then that Kohli introduced Ashwin into the attack. Ashwin mostly comes on to bowl after the 15th or the 20th over of the innings in most of the matches. That’s the time when he starts taking control of the middle overs, dries the runs up and picks up all those crucial wickets.
However, in this match, Kohli realised that bowling Ashwin early was the need of the hour. He brought him to bowl as early as in the 11th over of the innings so that he could fetch India the wicket its pacers couldn’t. However, Ashwin didn’t find success immediately. The wicket seemed to be offering almost nothing to the spinners as well. Although there was a hint of turn occasionally, it didn’t pose any serious threat to the batsmen whatsoever. However, those are exactly the kind of situations Ashwin thrives in. He varies his pace, uses different grips, bowls the occasional carrom ball, takes the pace of the ball and tries to read every move the batsman makes till the time he releases his delivery. This is exactly when his mind games come into play that outfoxes the batsmen more often than not.
The partnership between Amla and de Kock had slowly started becoming dangerous for India, as they had added 76 runs in a quick time. It was the phase when Hardik Pandya was also bowling from the other end and leaked some runs. Ashwin, on the other hand, had managed to keep them at bay to some extent, giving away runs at an economy a shade under five, and also troubling the batsmen by taking the pace of the ball. Not offering much pace to the batsmen meant they had to manufacture their own pace in the shots. And Hashim Amla perished exactly doing that. He tried to cut a slow and loopy delivery from Ashwin that bounced a little more due to its over-spin. The result was a thick edge induced of Amla’s willow that MS Dhoni caught without any trouble whatsoever. That turned out to be the much needed break-through that India needed and it was made by none other than Ashwin.
He followed the same mantra for the rest of the South African batsmen and made it hard for them to score runs. Although, he couldn’t fetch anymore wickets, what he did was tying up the batsmen and creating pressure. In his presence Ravindra Jadeja also looks much more effective as a wicket-taking option. The pressure created by Ashwin at one end has a direct influence on Jadeja at the other. Batsmen look to attack Jadeja to compensate for the runs dried up by Ashwin and hence lose more wickets. Moreover, Ashwin also becomes the fulcrum of the entire bowling attack once he comes on to bowl. He takes charge of the bowling and the entire bowling unit starts revolving around him. The pressure created by him always helps the other bowlers in some way to pick up wickets and that’s the beauty of his bowling.
In fact, Ashwin’s performance with the ball has a direct influence on India’s win-loss percentage as well. In the 62 ODI matches that India have won when he has played, Ashwin has claimed 103 wickets at an average of 26.64 and economy rate of 4.76.However, on the 38 occasions India has lost in his presence, Ashwin has claimed only 37 wickets at a dismal average of 47.37 and economy rate of 5.15. So, these statistics give a clear picture how Ashwin plays a pivotal role in India’s victories.
Ashwin played against South Africa like a wounded soldier making a comeback. Sitting on the sidelines for the first couple of matches hurt his pride, and he was raring to go whenever he would get an opportunity. Finally, when the need came up and the time arrived, he showed once again what he is capable of doing. The result was controlled bowling from the Indians and madness all around from South Africa. Moreover, Ashwin is not someone to be underestimated; he is someone who likes the challenge of stepping up in every big game. To put it in simple words, he is a calm mind with competitive nature and that is exactly what sets him apart from other players. His calm mind gives him the ability to read difficult situations and his competitive nature brings about the much needed aggression in his game. He is the kind of gem that will not lose its worth easily.